I always think about the quote from legendary basketball coach John Wooden: “Never confuse activity with achievement.” Each day by 5 p.m., I identify three things to accomplish the next day that will move the business forward with regard to revenue, product usage and distribution, and fundraising — in that order. The next day, I accomplish those three things before anything else gets done.Chris Motley is the founder and CEO of Better Weekdays, an inbound recruiting platform that powers brand-driven campus hiring. Its flagship application, The Whether, matches top talent with personalized career pathways. The Whether creates the ideal conditions for employers to easily attract, engage, and hire Millennials. Career advisors gain unprecedented visibility into the job search process while increasing engagement to help their students find careers they’ll love.
Prior to Better Weekdays, Chris spent six years as an executive vice president and director at 1888 Mills, a global textile manufacturer, where he led its expansion into Ghana, Africa, and headed its apparel division. Previously, Chris spent four years at Goldman Sachs as a commodities and interest rate products trader.
He is a graduate of Columbia University with a B.A. in history and the Kellogg School of Management with an MBA, concentrating in entrepreneurship. Chris resides in St. Louis and is active in the activities of the Regional Chamber and entrepreneurial ecosystem. He is a member of Pipeline, Entrepreneurs Organization Accelerator, and Young Entrepreneur Council, invite-only organizations that provide access to a national network of experts in technology entrepreneurship. Chris was recognized as one of the Top 35 under 35 Business Leaders by Chicago Scholars in 2015, and he was recently awarded the 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year by former Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.
Where did the idea for Better Weekdays and The Whether come from?The idea came from my experience as a job seeker, relying on serendipity to find a meaningful career opportunity that played not only to my strengths, but also to my values. Then, in an executive role for a global company, I often relied on serendipity in the recruiting process.
As a B2B company without a consumer-facing brand, it is difficult to attract college grads and young professionals to our open opportunities. When I dug deeper, it was clear that companies with large consumer brands also struggle to fill roles that college grads don’t have an immediate association to. Think Apple and retail jobs five years ago!
Finally, as an African-American first-generation college grad, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. There are certain jobs one is exposed to when growing up, but they only represent a subset of the vast number of opportunities that exist.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?I always think about the quote from legendary basketball coach John Wooden: “Never confuse activity with achievement.” Each day by 5 p.m., I identify three things to accomplish the next day that will move the business forward with regard to revenue, product usage and distribution, and fundraising — in that order. The next day, I accomplish those three things before anything else gets done.
My team uses Slack to communicate. Each day, all team members communicate their “top three” to one another. It helps with accountability and alignment. This habit is now embedded into our culture.
How do you bring ideas to life?My VP of product taught me the importance of the design thinking methodology, which is grounded in empathy and the observation of a user’s journey. The ideas we generate often come from recognizing friction in a user’s journey looking for a job, recruiting a student, or facilitating the process. We’ve found that rapid prototyping and demos with the entire team and clients are highly effective ways to bring ideas to life.
What’s one trend that really excites you?The personalization of everything. There is so much content available and so many people and companies vying for attention. As a result, the bar is being raised for a brand to become more relevant and helpful to its intended audience. I love this trend because I hate wasting time, and as a consumer, I love using products that are relevant to the goals I’m trying to achieve and how I prefer to live my life.
From a business perspective, it’s clear that people will give up information in return for convenience. My vision is to personalize the career pathway for college students entering the workforce, whether it leads to an internship or an entry-level position.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?I think most entrepreneurs would agree that we cannot be successful without the support of our teams and, more generally, our stakeholders: investors, clients, supporters, etc. Alignment toward our vision and goals is critical. As a result, I always repeat our vision, mission, and goals to everyone I speak with before diving into whatever the topic of conversation is. It has a way of centering things and establishing the necessary guardrails to have a productive discussion. I did it in this interview!
I’ve found that constantly repeating and reiterating our vision, mission, and goals makes it easier for others to help. People love helping entrepreneurs but oftentimes don’t know how. I try to help them help me by being clear about what we’re trying to accomplish.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?To perfectly candid, I don’t do anything I don’t want to do. It’s a very hard question to answer. I was raised in a single-parent household where daily sacrifice to achieve a bigger goal was the norm. “Work” or “jobs” are a means to an end, and I’ve always had an outcome-driven orientation. As long as one values the outcome and believes it’s attainable, jobs would never be classified as good or bad — just the road to a better life.
In high school, the most labor-intensive job I had was working at a distribution center where I had to unload, unpack, repackage, and reload semitrucks with towels that would be shipped to Target and other retailers and hotels. The average temperature in a semi during the summer months is about 103 degrees. But I loved it. It prepared my body for sports, I made money, and it kept me off the streets where many of my friends became victims to drugs and violence.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?Entrepreneurs, perhaps by definition, are highly opinionated. If I could do it all over again, I would have started a blog to share my opinions related to the problem that we’re trying to solve as an organization. My thought is that we would have built an audience — similar to Jason Fried’s famous “Signal vs. Noise” — and it would have been easier to get initial sales. Building an audience around a potential business may have been a more efficient way of building the business. That said, I’ve learned hard lessons that make me a better leader and entrepreneur.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?For me — as a tech entrepreneur focused on building products I want people to actually use — the most important thing is to talk to customers all the time. Not a single day goes by when I’m not talking to an existing or potential customer.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?Talking to customers can provide insight into ways to effectively distribute your product, which is directly tied to customer/user acquisition cost and cash flow. From observation, it seems like this is what kills many startups. We have spent an incredible amount of time thinking about who influences our customers and how we can influence the influencer.
It turns out that the answer to those questions has helped us efficiently spend cash while simultaneously developing a one-to-many distribution strategy. We didn’t learn this lesson until we almost went under! I guess the old adage is true: Necessity is the mother of invention.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?Allocating capital to the wrong people — both vendors and employees. Spending money is fun and easy. However, the only thing it proves is that someone successfully put you into his sales funnel and converted! The goal, however, is to put folks in your sales funnel and convert before you start allocating valuable cash to people who will theoretically make your life easier.
After a few bad investments in people, products, and services, I’ve started to do a few things. First, I say “no” all the time until I feel pain. Second, I hold everyone accountable from day one. The former was a function of not having money to spend and realizing that those are precisely the moments when I get the best ideas. The latter was recognizing that people self-select out if they know you will hold them accountable to results. I’ve had an expensive education in this regard.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?The total amount of student debt is about $1.2 trillion. College tuition has skyrocketed over the past 10 years or so despite the Great Recession, zero inflation, and close to zero wage growth. The model of higher education is broken, and it can literally kill our economy. College graduates (or dropouts) with debt don’t buy stuff!
I believe that there’s an opportunity to create an app that helps high school graduates choose an educational institution based on their intended field of study, projected debt load, and historical wages of individuals from a particular school in a certain job function within five years of completion. The ROI needs to be clear because the folks getting hurt the most are women, veterans, and minorities. This, I think, is a major contributor to the increasing wealth gap.
What is the best $100 you recently spent?I hired a car service to take me to the airport (Uber wasn’t available) and agreed to share my ride with another passenger. After a 45-minute conversation as we made our way to the airport, the gentleman mentioned that he was an early stage venture capitalist and that he’d love to learn more about my company. I will probably ride-share more often!
What software and web services do you use?We use the usual products: Slack, Jira, HubSpot, AWS, SalesforceIQ, Basecamp, Zenefits. What I try to do is stick to what works and leverage it to the fullest. It’s so easy to get new software and think it will transform your life. However, if the time isn’t invested in building a habit around software usage within daily operations, it will waste time, money, and energy. My favorite application is Evernote. Not only does it make it easy to capture ideas, make lists, collaborate with my team, or clip things from the web, but its search capabilities are also awesome. I never lose an idea!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read?One of my favorite books of all time is “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. The book breaks down what it takes to be successful based on interviews with 500 of some of the greatest leaders and businessmen in the early 20th century. I don’t think there is another source that provides a peek into that many successful people at one time. As entrepreneurs, we have to be efficient!
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?Many of my friends know I’m a huge fan of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. While they don’t tweet or write blogs, there is an individual who shares my sentiment and has an amazing blog. It’s called Farnam Street by Shane Parrish.
Chris Motley on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrisbmotley/
Chris Motley on Twitter: @ChrisBMotley
Better Weekdays on Twitter: @BetterWeekdays
Better Weekdays on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BetterWeekdays/
Lessons Learned(This is summarized and sometimes simply cut and pasted by the IdeaMensch crew.)
- Each day by 5 p.m., identify three things to accomplish the next day that will move the business forward about revenue, product usage, and distribution, and fundraising — in that order. The next day, accomplish those three things before anything else gets done.
- If you have a team that uses a project management tool such as slack, each day have all team members communicate their “top three” to one another. It helps with accountability and alignment.
- Recognize the importance of design thinking methodology, which is grounded in empathy and the observation of a user’s journey. Great ideas often come from identifying friction in a user’s journey.
- Alignment toward a vision and goals is critical. Repeat your vision, mission, and goals to everyone you to speak with before diving into whatever the topic of conversation is. It has a way of centering things and establishing the necessary guardrails to have a productive discussion.
- Read “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill.